When statistics keep on climbing, year after year, we often barely notice.

A figure which has rocketed over the past generation is the number of people dying as a result of drug use.

A record 50 people in Renfrewshire lost their lives as a result of substance misuse during 2018 – a number which has more than doubled in the past decade and which has multiplied more than eight times in just over 20 years.

Time and again, users and abusers are labelled as foolish junkies who are responsible for their own tragic fate.

In a small corner of Linwood, though, cries of “enough is enough” can be heard.

READ MORE: Renfrewshire Council looks for ways to improve life chances

Staff and volunteers at Youth Interventions (YI), founded by Louise Dempsey, are determined to turn things around for young people who dabble in substance use and remove the stigma attached to them.

Through one-on-one sessions, interactive workshops and family intervention, YI’s aim is to delve into the minds of curious teenagers to find out what drives them to drugs before it gets to addiction.

The Gazette: Drugs killed 50 people in Renfrewshire in 2018 – the worst figure on recordDrugs killed 50 people in Renfrewshire in 2018 – the worst figure on record

And the charity has now issued a direct call for action to both Renfrewshire Council and the UK Government, asking them to work to find funding for more specialist practitioners with lived experience of drug abuse who can be readily available to young people in their darkest hours.

“Our recovery practitioners are unfunded and these people can really help teenagers,” said Louise.

“I’m not talking about bad weans. I’m talking about your average teenager who goes out at a weekend and wants to try things. There is a huge stigma around kids taking drugs and we want to get rid of that.

“People blame parents but, honestly, you can be the best parent in the world and your teenager will still go out and want to experiment.

“We need to be seen to be calling for change as a community.

“We need more funding from both Renfrewshire Council, who have recently created an alcohol and drugs forum, and national governments.

“We need more practitioners with lived experience. The mental health awareness is great but we need something on the ground now.”

Renfrewshire recorded the eighth highest total of drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2018, behind Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife, Dundee, Aberdeen, North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire.

In a bid to ensure those lives were not lost in vain, parents, sisters, brothers and friends gathered at YI’s hub before Christmas to begin discussions about changes they want to see in the treatment of young people who are struggling with substance abuse.

As a result of losing a relative to drugs, Louise set up YI in 2015 and, in the four years since, the charity has worked in almost every school in Renfrewshire to speak with and listen to teenagers who are interested in trying or who have already tried taking drugs.

Between August 2017 and May 2018, the charity reached 1,800 young people in the area, but Louise has said workshops are no longer enough. A more powerful engine is needed to drive bigger change.

“We work with young people to help them join up the dots and get them to take an honest look at what they are taking and how it is affecting them, rather than them going to the doctors, being given anti-depressants for what is normally a come down and self-diagnosing themselves,” added Louise.

“We believe that we, as an organisation, have a solution. There needs to be a better understanding of why people use drugs and the pattern of behaviour that comes after that.

The Gazette: Jacqueline Cameron has chaired the council’s alcohol and drugs forumJacqueline Cameron has chaired the council’s alcohol and drugs forum

“We use the concept of recovery when the problem is just beginning, before it becomes an addiction. We are not saying we can save the world and we aren’t saying kids will stop dying from drugs but we can save lives.

“We’ve worked in schools right across Renfrewshire but it’s not enough. Young people need to have access to our awareness workshops for advice and information and to our practitioners for support, as do families and loved ones.”

On Sunday, January 26, the interventionist group will be holding a vigil for anyone who has lost a young person to drugs in an effort to raise awareness of the impact it can have on families.

Louise and the YI team are determined to make sure these people do not become mere statistics.

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